MUMBAI/NEW YORK CITY: An eerie prologue to the events of Thursday played out to anxious authorities on Sunday. Masked explosives capable of destroying an airplane midair were recovered in a tense operation from a family travelling from London to Boston.
A source at Heathrow airport recounted the drama. The five-member family — two adults and three children — boarded American Airlines Flight 109 for Boston. They checked in at the last moment, inviting only a perfunctory check of the children’s hand-baggage.
After the aircraft took off the check-in computer at the airport flashed a warning that a person under observation had boarded the flight. Airline staff informed immigration and security officials. A background check revealed that the male adult member of the family was on a suspect list prepared by Scotland Yard after the 7/7 terror attacks in London.
By the time the pilot was alerted to the danger, the flight had been airborne for an hour. UK authorities and the pilot began deliberating on the possibility of checking the suspect’s luggage. But the plan was abandoned because it could have triggered a violent response from the suspect and caused panic on board.
The pilot was advised to proceed to Boston where US security agencies could take over. But he decided to return to Heathrow. To avoid causing suspicion, it was agreed that the pilot would not announce the change in itinerary.
The aircraft landed safely at Heathrow and armed marshals boarded it to take the suspect and his family in custody. A search revealed the deadly cargo.